I’ve told the story more times than I can count now. “The runner on the triathlon relay team told me he wanted to do the whole thing, but would only do it if I would train with him. So I’m training for a triathlon this year.” I skipped all sorts of races that I wanted to be at and have been at for years — the Cable Area Off-road Classic, 12 Hours of Potluck, Marquette Bike Jam, the Miner’s Revenge. Why? They’re all fat-tire mountain bike races and I had committed to this standard swim-bike-run triathlon. I bought a tri suit and a visor. And I trained.
Finally, August 4th drew near. I put together my bag of tricks and made fresh rice cakes. I had been obsessively checking the weather for days. Finally, I got into bed and had trouble getting to sleep, despite the late hour. When I woke, there was the sound of rain on the roof. Dang. My wife and I packed up the stuff and the kids and headed towards Copper Harbor.
One thing about triathlons I dislike is the requirement to get there so early. Considering that the swim didn’t start until 9:00, the pre-race meeting was at 8:00 and body marking ended then. To be absolutely sure you were there on time, you needed to plan on arriving around 7:30. This is pushed even earlier considering that the parking is something like 1/3 mile from the main event area. You do a lot of standing around. I tried to get my transition area set up intelligently, but the ground was so wet it made that pretty hard. I got the absolute necessities out of the bag and tried to keep them dry. Then I waited.
A lesson I had learned at the Yooper Sprint Tri was that it was tremendously important to acclimate to the water before the swim actually started. I don’t know that would have helped a whole lot during that race (after all, the water was frigid), but I tried to use that knowledge to my advantage for the Copperman. I swam around a bit and then got ready for the start.
There isn’t much to say about the swim. I got over my mental “thing” about seeing weeds in the water, which was handy. I found myself struggling at one point and realized I was just swimming too hard. When I settled down into a consistent pace, I just swam. Nineteen minutes and seven seconds later, I got out of the water. That was 61st out of the 96 racers. I had some time to make up.
Transition 1 is always slow for me, because I put on socks. If I were to get serious about this, I’d make a point of getting used to running without socks. But as a newbie triathlete, I just put ’em on.
I grabbed a rice bar and headed out on the bike. I’ve done this course enough to know it pretty well. I paced myself pretty well, keeping my heart rate mostly in the Steady State zone or just above. I passed a lot of people. Eventually I settled into a group of about 6 guys who were all pretty evenly matched. We bounced around, passing each other and then being passed again. It was until the final mile or two that I put that group behind me and rolled in at 1:02:58.2, which was a more respectable 18/96. (It’s interesting to note that I rode the same course last year, focusing entirely on cycling and posted a 1:02:12.7. Only 46 seconds slower after swimming for 20 minutes and deliberately metering my effort!)
Transition 2 was reasonable, but I see why triathletes like shoes without laces. My hands and arms were shaking so much I had a hard time tying my shoes. I grabbed my visor, a last drink and was off.
I’d like to point out here there was something I neglected in my 1:45.8 trip through the transition area: my race number. I had no intention of pinning my number to my suit before the swim or having it flap in the breeze during the bike. So I put it on a homemade race belt and had it in my transition area for the run. Unfortunately it stayed there the whole race. It’s good that the Copperman doesn’t follow traditional triathlon rules and apply a time penalty to that.
The run was mostly uneventful. The run course is out and back, so I made a point of hollering encouragement to most of the runners I saw, even the ones ahead of me. I felt like I still struggled with pacing on this part of the event, but still turned in a reasonable 38:12.6 for the 5 miles. That was good for 28/96 on the run and a final finish in 27th place.
The friend who convinced me to do this in the first place was effusive in his praise for my result. For a first “real” triathlon, it felt pretty good — just outside of the top 25%. I didn’t even feel totally trashed when I was done! (On the other hand, I barely made it to the bedroom after driving home. I collapsed and slept like a rock for over an hour.)
I had set out a simple goal for this race: 20 minute swim, 1 hour bike, 40 minute run. Aside from a couple minutes over on the bike (which I knew I was more realistic), I met those goals. They were even stretch goals. So I had completed a big triathlon, met goals and generally did something pretty respectable. So I was done, right? No more triathlons!
Until my father-in-law expressed a desire to watch me compete in one. So I found one in downstate Michigan and signed up. My “Summer of Triathlon 2012” wasn’t over yet.